Sunday, August 10, 2008
Hail To The Grandparents
By Michael Morris
The night he secured the Democratic nomination for president, Senator Barack Obama declared that all he had become was due to one person – his grandmother. At that moment I felt a kinship with this man. It was not a connection based on politics but rather one based on matters of the heart. Like Senator Obama, I know first hand the lasting impact of grandparents.
When my mother and I fled an abusive household, we found refuge in the home of my mother’s parents. While my mother went to vocational school to learn a trade so that she could support us, my grandmother went to work with me. Every afternoon after lunch, my grandmother would sit with me and ask me to list out all of the people in my life who loved me. If I ever missed the name of a cousin or aunt, she would stop me, add the names and ask me to continue. Sitting on her sofa, reclining against the soft fold of her arm and smelling the fried chicken that still clung to her blouse, I would recite my list and through time, I came to understand that of all the people in my life, no one would ever love me the way that this woman did. My grandmother had a six-grade education but as I come to the fourth decade of my life, I still count her as the wisest person I’ve ever known. Her small cinder block home was a sanctuary of sorts where wisdom and love were dispensed in equal measure but yet she never forced on anyone.
For years, I thought the relationship I had with my grandmother was unique and something most people could not relate to or understand. And yet, through the years I have encountered others not like Senator Obama who have known special relationships with their grandparents – relationships that fostered life changes and often provided a detour to destructive journeys. The stories belong to young children and senior adults alike, who at the mere topic of their grandparents can be reduced to tears. One such story belongs to a ten year old boy I met in a doctor’s office. Disease had made him twice the size of his age. As he sat next to his grandmother waiting to be called back to see the doctor, we continuously made eye contact. After several smiles were exchanged I made a comment about the logo on his t-shirt and then chatted with his grandmother. I shared how seeing the two of them together brought back memories of the times when my grandmother would accompany me to the doctor. Never looking up, the boy pulled at a thread of his shorts and said, “Yeah, I like being my grandma. Being with her is the one place where I feel good about myself.”
And then there’s the eighty-seven year old woman I met at a dinner party. At the host’s urging the woman agreed to read from a memory journal she’d been keeping of growing up in a Mississippi town that no longer existed. She had taken great care in illustrating the gold leafed pages and held the book up to show a drawing of a coal powered train her grandfather had conducted. A hush fell over the room as she read about being a girl and upon hearing the whistle of the evening train, running through the town square to meet the grandfather who had helped to raise her. Although I was moved by her lyrical writing and the sense of history, more than anything I was struck at how this woman – now a great-grandmother- talked about the joy she felt turning the corner of the train depot and finding her grandfather climbing down from the train to hug her. “We had a bond, he and I,” she said, her voice still breaking with emotion fifty years after his death. With tears in her eyes, she looked up at the dinner guests, shook her head and said, “And I can’t wait to hug him again.”
Like the Kansas woman who raised Senator Obama there are 2.5 million other grandparents just like her, struggling to raise their grandchildren, often at great physical and financial sacrifice. I tip my hat to them and to Senator Obama’s grandmother for making an investment that counts. President Carter made it official in 1978 that grandparents are worth celebrating and signed a proclamation declaring September 7 as Grandparent’s Day. Even though Hallmark doesn’t take out television ads to push cards for this little known holiday, I like many others will take a moment to think of the contributions my grandmother made on my life and somewhere on the campaign trail, I bet Sentor Obama will be thinking of his grandmother too. God bless grandparents.
Michael Morris is the author of A Place Called Wiregrass, Live Like You Were Dying and Slow Way Home – a novel about a young boy being raised by his grandparents.